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Recounting Blessings

Chapter 5


1944-1949

 

Banknock Village – ‘Soccer Nets and Posts’

 

It might be fair to say, from the pervasive impression given by Tolstoy in his tragic novel, ‘Anna Karenina’, that one of this magnificent writer’s strongest images of humanity could be accurately paraphrased in the words, ‘Life is a railway junction’. However, in this current book, as a less ambitious work of non-fiction, I, as more mathematician than literary craftsman, might be allowed to evoke another metaphor when opting for, ‘Life is a nerve plexus’. You may ask why? Well, in many senses, my life’s journeys have been a series of overlapping and strongly supported lattices in, and through which there have, not only been many optional pathways, but also countless fascinating intersections and many, many goings-on within the interstices!

 

From the wonders of my body’s anatomical and physiological routings, to my recollection of our Banknock schoolhouse larder’s nigh-well semi-permeable mesh, to my wireless-vision of the soccer ‘ingin bag’ for Thornton’s scoring header at Hampden Park, to my use of the present day’s marvel in the form of an electronic internet, I recall in this and the next few chapters, just a few instances of this metaphor’s ‘emergings’ - as vitality, or protection, or recreational target or obstacle, or communicative force et al. Such images as these, and so many other manifestations of ‘life’s net-works’ have been my ever-changing companions over the last sixty-five years.

 

These days, while reflecting on times gone by, I find it particularly paradoxical that the only sport in which I progressed eventually to a level that ‘Yogi’ or ‘ Booboo’ might have deemed, ‘Better than the average bear!’, was rugby union football. Why paradoxical? Well, it is one game which does not employ nets. It is certainly not the only one to dispense with such artifacts, but in my competitive sporting experiences, rugby stands out as such. A trivial observation? Perhaps? But, on the other hand, it says much to me about the binding networks of friendship and respect that participants in the game of rugby union football form the world over. The word ‘union’ was so wisely chosen, methinks! However, all those pseudo-intellectual and verbose meanderings apart, what of ‘nets and posts’ in my Banknock days? 

 

The excitement of soccer nets, and the frustrations attached to youngsters like us not having them available, came from first seeing a goal scored at Cannerton ‘Bing’ Park, the home of Banknock United FC above our village and the neighbouring Haggs. I clearly remember in the 1946/47 season standing behind the goal in the lea of the south wall of the park, when a rocket shot fired from close-range seemed to have me in its sights. But I did not get ‘clocked’! Instead the intervening netting bulged with the ‘missile’ before dropping it, seemingly in slow-motion, to nestle benignly on the ground in the left-hand corner.  Even then my infant mind seemed to be saying (after a fashion!), “No doubt about it – it’s a goal. If only we had this for our goals instead of the endless arguments our games produce from the useful, but hopeless ‘goal-posts’ formed from our four piles of ‘jaikets/jerkins’ at the ends of whatever make-shift pitch currently in use.”

 

For goal-posts for our head-to-head matches of ‘heiders’ or ‘one-a-sides’ on our own ‘Bumpy Ibrox’ in the school garden, my pal Robin Profit and I had experimented with bamboo canes, cricket stumps, old oil cans etc., but none of these had ever prevented the frequently disputed call, “Over the post – it’s nae a goal – it’s a ‘by-kick’ or a ‘coarner’ or whatever.” So the pair of us decided to improve matters and take our improvisational skills to a much higher level. Competitive dribblin’ or shootin’ or heidin’ our beloved ‘cov’ was put on the back-burner for about a fortnight or so as first, scrounging for materials, and then ‘joinery’ work was tackled.

 

Old wooden boards were dragged from bits of the dismantled garage which lay behind Dad’s small hut over the fence in the corner of the schoolhouse garden – the hut seemingly having survived installation, dismantlings and re-erections from 1934 in Causewayhead, via Alma Street, Falkirk in 1941 to Banknock in 1944 –

 

 

These boards were full of nails of various lengths and stages of rusting. Thus a hammer and a saw and an axe had to be surreptitiously purloined! But approval was amazingly given as long as any sawing or axing to be done was performed by either of our respective fathers. Our eyes were also gazed longingly on our fathers’ strawberry netting, but when those were banned, a treasure trove of old discarded netting was found in the Profit’s garage and willingly donated to further our project, if and when that stage of the construction process might be reached!

 

No ‘architectural’ drawings were made! Instead Robin and I visualized our ideal goal as one which would be movable to less worn or muddy bits of the field at various times. Our mental plan was to make something like what you would nowadays call a field hockey goal with supporting back-boards and side-boards (Not that we had any notion then of hockey, far less its goals!) We had little awareness of the need for stability, or for the safety of our ‘cov’s’ bladder, or for us boys bumping heads into protruding nails or having too low a cross-bar. Thus, ill-prepared, we set to with great resolution. Each step brought unforeseen problems of course – the first came early from the impossibility of nailing thin flat boards to other thin flat boards at right angles to each other at ground level – the second came from the cross bar needing the angular support of being joined to side and/or back boards to avoid the tendency for the ‘edifice’ to sway left or right to what later we would have referred to as a parallelogram, and not remain as a desirable rectangular shape. Ad hoc solutions to both puzzles came from nailing the extremities of the thin boards to old semi-rotten remains of ‘three by three’ fence posts lying in the corner of the adjacent farmer’s field. As the goal made like this tended to coup forwards, it was quickly decided to nail even more rotten posts to the back board …. not very pretty …. but it worked!

 

So with the ‘sorta’ skeleton goal constructed, the much anticipated netting stage was reached. The fun and games of being all tangled up in netting was not enjoyed initially, but the disappointing discovery of why the nettting had been previously discarded was even worse! The strings of so many bits of it just disintegrated as we handled them. Were we stuck then? Not us, as I had already noted that my dad had a lot of spare heavy six inch wire mesh which he used for training up his sweet-peas and that the little wire rings he used for that purpose might be just the very things to fix such six foot squares of mesh to screw-in hooks on our ‘skeletal goal’ boards. An approximately six feet wide goal line had already been forced on us by the old garage timbers so with dad’s agreement we proceeded to complete our ‘Heath Robinson’ eye-sore! We were proud of our achievement …but not for long ….it was nowhere near satisfying our needs …. especially as the ‘cov’ kept getting punctured … nor were we at all happy with the derision our contraption received from class-mates when spotted from the top of the school playground wall, and from members of the top class when working in their plots at the other end of the school garden. You live and learn! But neither Robin nor I became handy-men later in life! Indeed ‘hashy’ is the word my wife uses to describe my attempts at household repairs and she also shudders when I suggest that I might improvise!


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